Monday, March 26, 2007

Are you smarter than a 5th the kitchen?

There has been a dearth of cooking posts here of late because I have been having more bad luck and frustration in the kitchen--you know, those periods where nothing seems to go right for you? For the past week or so, either it's something as annoying as not having the ingredients that I need on hand to recipes just not turning out right to me simply being an idiot in the kitchen. It started with the macaroni salad last week. I noticed that, for some strange reason, the most consistent hits to my website come from the search terms, "Hawaiian Macaroni Salad." When I read that, it put me in the mind that I wanted some! So I asked my roommate to make it one evening while I was still at work. I just wanted it to be a very plain version with elbows or salad macaroni (ditalini, if you will), mayo, and grated carrot. But we didn't have the right pasta, and we didn't have any carrots. Very annoying.

So I stopped at the store the next day to get carrots, but by the time I added them, it still wasn't right. (I think it was that we used campanelle pasta.) So I decided to add some hard-cooked egg to the party, but then it still tasted sort of...unfinished. Then I remembered a pasta salad that someone brought to a potluck that I attended several years ago with tuna, egg, and peas. So I threw a can of tuna in there, and guess what? No peas! AARRRGH! By this time, I had almost made the "house macaroni salad," so I just went ahead and added some chopped olives, chives, and seasonings and called it done. It was good--not what I really wanted--but we enjoyed it for the next couple of days with our lunches.

Next, I tried my hand at more candy-making this past weekend. No, no, nothing Frito-based, but proper candy that my pal, Anna, calls Scottish Fudge. As we all know, if it's no' Scottish, it's crrrrappp! So I was game to try, but it called for golden syrup, superfine sugar, and I also wanted to add walnuts to mine. Usually, being this close to Canada, we can find Lyle's Golden Syrup (a British staple) in our local grocery stores, but not this time! I'll have to pick some up the next time I'm across the border. So I settled for brown sugar-flavored Karo syrup, as golden syrup is sort of halfway between light and dark corn syrups (and is delicious used in pecan pie, I might add). But if you can believe, none of the stores had superfine sugar either! So I just whizzed up some regular granulated sugar in the food processor, and that worked fine. But then there was the dilemma of when to add the nuts to the candy. I decided to toss them in at about 230F (which took the temperature back down to 220F), and then it took quite some time for the candy to get up to the end point of 245F. The nuts toasted properly, and the overall result was good, but I wonder about the effect on texture. When the candy was fully cooled, the outside edges were more like soft caramel, and the inside parts were were more like a soft toffee. And the whole thing tasted like a nutty, dulce de leche confection. None of these things in and of themselves are undesirable, but I wouldn't liken the product to "fudge." I'll have to consult with Anna about this issue and get her invaluable feedback. (You don't win the Pillsbury Bake-Off for nuthin', you know!)

Nutty Scottish Fudge

1/2 cup salted butter
1/2 cup golden syrup (or substitute brown sugar-flavored syrup)
3 cups superfine sugar
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

Line a 10x13 pan with parchment sprayed with baking apray.

Melt butter over medium-low heat. Add golden syrup, sugar and condensed milk. Cook, stirring gently, over medium-low heat to 245 degrees. Remove from heat, add vanilla and beat with a wooden spoon for 1 minute. Dump into lined pan and let cool. Lift from pan and cut into pieces.

I also tried to make ice cream over the weekend (no, I didn't go into a sugar coma--the candy was for my trivia night treat, and the ice cream was for ME!). When I took the pistachio muffins to trivia last week, my friend Tom remarked that one of his favorite ice cream flavors was pistachio, and told me about some place near where he used to live that made the best version. And this reminded me of a little place down the road from where I used to live in Kankakee, IL (actually, Bradley, IL, to be more precise) that made the best caramel cashew ice cream. So I decided to make my own at home. I started the recipe, mixing up the eggs with sugar and milk and so on, but when it came time to stir in the cream, I realized that we were out of cream! (And I am not the sort of person to ever be out of cream!) But I really wanted that ice cream, so I went ahead and made it with half-and-half, figuring that it just wouldn't be quite as rich. WRONG! The texture was icy and awful, and it just didn't taste like anything, probably because I always pull back on the sugar in ice cream recipes, believing cream to be sweet in and of itself. Sigh. I guess it's called ice CREAM for a reason. Never one to be wasteful, I melted the mix back down, stuck it in the fridge, and the next day, I split it into two portions, added newly-procured heavy cream to one half, corrected the sweetening and other ingredients and rechurned a batch. And darn, if it wasn't one of my best ice creams ever! So all was well that ended well...or so I thought.

Caramel Cashew Ice Cream

2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup caramel sauce (preferably, homemade--up to 6 tablespoons)
1/8- 1/4 teaspoon salt (I used 1/8 because my caramel was salty. As Cyd would say, "Maybe YOUR caramel is salty, b*tch! What a stupid thing to say to me!")
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream

1 to 1/2 cups whole cashews, roasted and salted

Whisk the eggs in a large bowl until pale yellow and thickened, a minute or two by hand. Add the sugar and whisk until the mixture looks smooth and not grainy, at least another minute (maybe two). Then whisk in the caramel sauce, salt and vanilla until thoroughly blended in. Switch to a spoonula-type implement and gently stir in the milk and cream (beating as little air in as possible!). Pour mix into your ice cream freezer and churn until the consistency of soft-serve, adding the whole cashews in the last five minutes or so. Transfer to another container and harden in the freezer for at least a few hours before serving.

This leads to the biggest debacle of all, my attempt to make buckwheat crepes. You see, I had recently purchased the April issue of Saveur magazine, and in it, there is a delightful article (and glorious pictures) about Brittany and their signature food, the buckwheat crepe. We are lucky enough to live six miles from the border of Quebec, and we have sampled several creperies in Montreal over the years. Our very favorite is a Breton creperie called Ty-Breiz on Rue Rachel north of downtown. Cyd prefers what the Bretons call a crepe complete, a buckwheat crepe with ham, gruyere, and egg. But I always opt for one with house-made sausages, crimini mushrooms, and bechamel. YUM! And we never eat there without having their amazing house salad. They bring you an entire head of Bibb lettuce perched on top of a bowl and drizzled with their thick, very garlicky house-made dressing. You eat the salad by peeling the lettuce leaves off of the head. DEEEEEEE-LISH!

Anyhoo, this lovely article inspired me to try making my own buckwheat crepes at home. Again, being this close to the border, you can easily acquire buckwheat flour in our grocery stores. So I mixed up the batter with an egg and some water as directed by the recipe in the magazine, and then left it to relax in the fridge overnight. The next day, the batter looked pretty thin to me, but I continued with the recipe that called for adding milk and even more water! I had a feeling that something wasn't right (and don't think I wasn't going to write in to Saveur to complain!), but I heated up my crepe pans and soldiered on. When I poured the mixture into the pans, it just sizzled around, evaporated, and left a sticky goo behind. So I decided to add another half cup of buckwheat flour to the mix, but it was still too thin. Then I cut bait on the buckwheat and added another cup of white whole wheat flour, plus another egg to give the batter more body. It finally looked like crepe batter should, so I started cooking them. They stuck to the pan a bit even with a liberal amount of butter, and I had to use a spatula to turn them. Even so, most of them broke apart (you can see in the picture how the bottom part stuck and came off and how the end of one of the crepes is torn). Even though they weren't very pretty, and certainly weren't thin-and-crispy like a genuine Breton crepe, they were tasty enough. We had the "complete" version for our dinner with egg, cheese, and ham, and I even made Cyd a dessert crepe filled with sweetened strawberries and whipped cream.

It wasn't until later when I was rummaging around in the fridge and found the (now very thick!) buckwheat batter that I realized my error. I had tried to make crepes using the leftover caramel ice cream mix! It was comprised only of half-and-half, eggs and lots of sticky sugar and caramel, so no wonder it evaporated in the pan and left a gooey mess behind! GEEZ! Am I DUMB or what??? So if you've ever felt like a moron in the kitchen, remember, you're not alone. Moreover, I guess I'll have to report back about the buckwheat crepes another time, eh? ;-)


Randi said...

I subcribe to saveur and April is my last issue : (. I wanted to try those crepes too. I can get buckwheat flour in London or in MI at the bulk store. Are you going to try that coconut cream pie? I want to, but I'll skip the dream whip. The matza ball soup looks great too. Hey, do you know if pastry flour is the same as cake and pastry flour?

Btw, I think Cyd should cook a meal for you.

JoyBugaloo said...

I don't like coconut, but Cyd has already been whining about me making one for HER! And it should be said--for the record--that Cyd does her share of the cooking and more than her share of the dishes! ;-)

Hmm, I've not heard of cake AND pastry flour! Must be a Canadian thing? I know that cake and pastry flour are not the same. Cake flour is the lowest in protein to make the tenderest resulting cakes, and pastry flour falls between cake flour and all-purpose. It is a wee bit higher in protein and is supposed to produced tender pastries that have a little more body than cake. I understand that you can mix AP and cake flour to make a substitute for pastry flour, but it sounds to me like "cake and pastry flour" might already have you covered.

If it were me, I would use cake and pastry flour in place of pastry flour, but maybe not in place of cake flour, or else your cake will be a little tougher than you might like. Just my thoughts! What are you making?

Cyd said...

True is, the ice cream- based crepes were better than the crepe- based crepes.

Randi said...

The coconut cream pie in the saveur as well as those chicken pies call for pastry flour. I have cake Flour from MI( swans down) and I have cake and pastry flour from Ontario. I'll use the latter. I love Cook's Illustrated's coconut cream pie, but the crust looks very different in the saveur article.